Updated: Dec 15, 2020
by Laura Henry
Over the last month or so, small, in-person endurance events and races have taken place in different pockets of the world. Coming out of several months of shutdown where group gatherings were highly frowned upon (or even banned), the news of these events restarting is very encouraging, indeed.
The most exciting piece of this might be that athletes finally feel hopeful that they can start to plan for some goals at “real” events in the future. With so much uncertainty surrounding in-person endurance events and races, athletes have essentially been stuck in a holding pattern where they are staying fit, but unable to set any goals that were dependent upon a race or event taking place.
As we enter a time period where goal-setting becomes more viable and tangible, it’s a good time to revisit some important considerations when setting a goal.
As all of the coaches here at Team MPI have talked about at one point or another, there are so many different elements that are important to consider when setting a goal. However, in my experience as both a coach and an endurance athlete, I’ve found that the most overlooked piece of goal-setting is this:
Saying yes also means saying no.
What does this mean? Simply put, it’s this: If an athlete chooses to pursue a goal, then they will have to sacrifice something in pursuit of that goal. A goal is - by definition - something that is unattainable at the time that the goal is set but could be attainable after some work. Therefore, if an athlete wants to achieve a result that they are not currently capable of achieving with their current abilities and resources, they will need to re-allocate those resources and modify their abilities in order to attain it.
Many, many athletes think that when they set a goal, they can layer the process it will take to attain the goal on top of what they already have going on in their lives. For example, someone might set a goal to train for a triathlon. They think that they will be able to complete this training while still accomplishing all of the same things that they are used to in their lives, possibly including (but not limited to):
Cooking homemade meals each day
Attending all family events
Being active outdoors (think hiking, kayaking, snowmobiling, etc.)
Maintaining a yard that would make the Joneses jealous
Growing a vegetable garden that rivals the best farmer’s markets
Keeping the same intensity and volume of the forms of exercise that they have historically done (i.e. strength training, long runs, martial arts, etc.)
Being successful and effective in their role at work
Having a robust social life on their days off from work
Getting the proper amount of quality sleep each day
I am certainly not suggesting that setting a goal requires giving up one’s entire life or a complete sense of self. However, it’s really this simple: there are a finite number of hours in a day. No matter how we try or wish for it to be different, we cannot increase the number of those hours. As a result, we must budget within those hours. Because of this, when we say yes to something, we must also say no to something else.
We talk a lot about managing expectations, but the truth is that it really is one of the best things that one can do for themselves. Managing expectations helps an athlete stick with the process that is necessary to reach the goal that they've set for themselves.
It is very discouraging to go into something expecting it to feel/look a certain way, only to discover that the reality is much different than one originally imagined it to be. I have seen this time and time again when athletes are faced with the nuts and bolts of what it will take to accomplish a goal. Setting the goal is one thing; following through with the discipline and diligence required to reach a goal is an entirely different thing.
One of the best expectations that one can set/manage for themselves is that they will not be able to layer in something new or beyond what they have done before with the rest of their life. They will have to make a trade for the time, energy, and resources that will be required to pursue that goal.
The next time you say “Yes!” to that exciting, thrilling, and maybe-slightly-scary goal, recognize that you are in effect saying “No!” to something else. Acknowledge this and accept this, and you will choose what you say no to, and that’s actually a very liberating thing. Try to fight this or wish for this to be different, and you will end up discovering that the Universe will make the decision for you. Believe me when I say that that’s a frustrating situation to land in; I’ve seen it bring people to tears (and that’s on a good day).
Saying yes also means saying no. But saying no isn’t a bad thing or a sign of weakness. It just means that you’re deciding what is most important to you in this season of your life, and it enables you to keep your focus on those very important things.
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN U Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success. She can be reached at laura@teamMPI.com.